- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds is growing and getting high marks in a new national report.

The National Institute for Early Education Research released a report Tuesday saying Alabama is one of only four states with pre-kindergarten programs that meet all the institute’s quality standards. It marked the eighth year Alabama has met all the standards. But the report said access is very limited in Alabama, with only 6 percent of 4-year-olds attending during the 2012-2013 school year.

The report praised Alabama for increasing funding for its pre-kindergarten programs. It said increased access to high-quality pre-K programs will benefit Alabama children in the short term and long term.

On the same day the report was released, Gov. Robert Bentley announced 100 new sites for pre-kindergarten programs for the 2014-2015 school year.

The sites are in 40 of Alabama’s 67 counties. It marks the second year of additional sites due to funding improvements recommended by the governor and approved by the Legislature. The budget for the new school year is $38.5 million, up from $19.1 million in the year covered by the institute’s report and from $28.5 million this school year.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance estimated that the expansion to 410 sites will increase enrollment from 5,570 children this year to 7,370 in the new school year. That is an 89 percent increase from the 3,900 students served in the 2012-2013 school year covered by the institute report.

“A strong foundation is critical to a child’s education, and Alabama’s First Class voluntary pre-kindergarten program provides that to children who are able to participate,” Bentley said Tuesday.

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